Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Faith Works 1-6-18

Faith Works 1-6-18

Jeff Gill


Revelation to Genesis or the other way 'round



January 6 is the "twelfth day of Christmas" famed in song and story.


You know, partridges and pear trees and lords a' leaping.


In some cultures and religious traditions, the Feast of the Epiphany is the gift-giving occasion. Which makes sense, as we mark in the Christian calendar with this day the arrival of the Magi, the "wise men from the East" who come bearing gifts.


In modern American usage, we've mushed together St. Nicholas' commemoration on December 6 and Epiphany on January 6 into the Christmas Day I suspect most of you had, with the gifts and the feasting and the celebration all focused on December 25.


January 6 has quite a bit to commend it to our attention, I'd argue. Even if your congregation is not a liturgical church with the calendar of the year marking such dates, it's a blessing on at least two practical fronts, let alone a solid theological one.


For one thing, Epiphany is the close of what we can hold onto tight as our churchly season of Christmastide, even as all the commercial decorations and retail intrusion rudely shifted to Valentine's Day stuff as Christmas Eve came to an end. In a sense, we get Christmas back. Let's make use of that!


And Epiphany is that second stage of realization, after the baby is born, following the initial amazement that any baby brings, to where the parents and family and friends and any wandering shepherds in the neighborhood start thinking about the implications of this new arrival. Where shall we go to protect the child? How can we best care for our baby? Do we have enough diapers?


Once the obligatory and familial events of Christmas are over, we have the chance to take a deep breath, and reflect. Maybe New Year's did that for you, but often that's busy and frenetic itself. Epiphany invites us, before we put the manger set away (and some of us don't take down our tree until Jan. 6 for this very reason), to take a pause and consider what this all means. Has meant. Could mean.


Even so, that's my practical advice about Epiphany. Theologically, it has a very deep and profound meaning in that the word literally means "manifestation." The appearing of a promised one from God for humankind, the presence in the flesh of God's own child, foretold in Israel but known in various forms in cultures near and far . . . and so, the Magi. These wise men (we say three because they bring three gifts, but it's not clear what size of a caucus they constituted) were not Hebrews, they were not from the Promised Land, they didn't know the Temple or Herod or the high priests, they just followed the signs God gave them, and arrived on the scene just as a more intimate drama was playing out in a small provincial village on the edge of the Roman Empire.


So the first epiphany was to them, bringing Gentile and Jew, East and West together at the crib where the baby Jesus lay. And we mark this Epiphany feast ever since because our own eyes need to have revealed to them that God is more than spirit, not just an ethereal idea, beyond mere potential or belief to being present, here, now – a manifested God here on earth.


The Bible we Christians use ends with the book of Revelation. It, too, is an English attempt to translate a Greek word that is very close to Epiphany: Apocalypse. We've come to think of "apocalypse" as meaning a destructive ending, but in fact its root is more one of "unveiling." Revelation is an unveiling to John on Patmos Island of the destiny of all things. Epiphany was a revelation, an apocalypse in miniature, an unveiling for human perception of how God intends to be involved in creation. Whether you read about the Magi and a baby in Matthew's gospel, or a Lamb and a wedding banquet in John's Revelation, you can pick up the theme fairly quickly: be ready for the Lord to appear in unexpected and amazing forms, sometimes through an angel with a world-ending trumpet, and sometimes as the host inviting the unworthy and undeserving to regal seats at a heavenly table.


I rejoice at closing out my Christmas season with Epiphany; may your celebrations at home and beyond make you ready to see how God is ready to be revealed in your life!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your year ahead as you see it unveiled this week at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes from my Knapsack 1-4-18

Notes from my Knapsack 1-4-18

Jeff Gill


Let's take a step forward



We have a new year. Congratulations!


Yes, yes, I know, we just held on until the big blue marble rolled all the way around the fireball one more time. But that's not nothing. So well done, all.


And we roll on. It's funny that we have such a linear concept of time when in fact we can just sit on the sofa and time still passes. We neither need to march on or roll down the river or put the pedal to the metal. Sit still, and time still passes. Quite well.


Many of us have had the chastening experience of losing a loved one, and being almost startled to shock and surprise that the world still turns, the day blurs into night and then dawns afresh, after the loss of someone around whom our world revolved.


That's the personal, the emotional side of time's inexorable passage; the physicists get impatient when a layman with little math such as myself ask about a point in space that is perfectly still, because apparently it doesn't quite exist. Or it does, I'm actually not sure.


But I know as I sit and type, I'm hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour to the east as the globe spins; the solar system rotates as a whole around the Sun; about the galactic center our puny set of orbiting rocks moves in stately array – and the Milky Way galaxy itself turns, even as it hurtles in . . . some direction. Up? Out?


And I do nothing, if you count typing this column on a laptop as nothing, which some would, and I won't argue. Burning calories I'm not. Yet time passes, and the world turns.


Which is where, in this new year, though the cosmos doesn't need it, I feel the need for motion. For more movement. And I share this because I'm not alone. My doctor hints at it (with me, he's more direct), and all the health departments and public agencies say the same: we all need to move more.


It's too easy to see marathoners and ironmen and ironwomen in exercise togs and with high-tech gear and the stickers saying "26.2" on the back of their vehicles, and think "well, not me." I'm out of that loop enough I spent months wondering some years back why I kept seeing "13.1" on trunks and rear windows in front of me.


What we don't all have to do is run half, or even quarter marathons. We just need to move. It can help, even in modest doses. I can quote studies to you, but guiltily, we all know it. Get up and move more than you do, and you will be better off for it – physically, psychologically, even spiritually. You can pray as you walk, you know. Kneeling and sitting are not Biblical mandates. They're customs. What about walking prayer?


You'll not see me mandating for one and all a prescription. That's not for me to say. Maybe every day, perhaps three days a week would be a great step forward for you. Is it a mile, or three laps of the house? Outdoor or indoor, or even just getting up every 30 minutes to stretch and flex a bit before you sit some more – we need to move.


My bias is towards metaphors of progress and movement towards a goal. That may or may not be the best way to look at life, or how to deal with setbacks or the treadmill that life can be in some seasons, but I want to commend to one and all, and commit myself in public for 2018: let's get a move on.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's a recovering runner who just wants to get back to walking more. Tell him how you are on the move at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes from my Knapsack 12-21-17

Notes from my Knapsack 12-21-17

Jeff Gill


Christmas and customs in early Granville



It is probably worth noting that Bushnell's early history of Granville, published in 1889 and written over the previous decades with resort to some of those first generation settlers, has not one mention of Christmas in it.


Not in the index, not in a search of the pages word by word. Many details of the life of the original Christian bodies here, Congregational and Methodist and Episcopal and Baptist (the Congregational Church ultimately adopting the Presbyterian form of governance), and about their feasts and frolics, but of Christmas there is not a word.


Recall that it was a Congregational body that pioneered the formal settlement of Granville in 1805, with roots going back through Massachusetts to Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans – who had abolished and banned Christmas celebrations in the 1640s. The Scottish Kirk, forerunner to what we know as Presbyterians today, had forbidden Christmas observances back in the 1560s.


So when you learn that Charles Dickens gets called "The Man Who Invented Christmas" in a recent (and delightful) movie, and you know "A Christmas Carol" was written in 1843, you start to see the ebb and surge of the cultural and churchly markers of what we call a "traditional Christmas."


New Englanders in general were not a Christmasy people, thanks to that Puritan substrate, and the early pioneers across the Western Reserve and here in central Ohio and on across the Northwest Territory . . . they didn't "do" Christmas.


In Newark, the noted Father Jean-Baptiste Lamy, later the Archbishop of Santa Fe of whom Willa Cather so wonderfully writes in fictional form through "Death Comes For the Archbishop," is recorded as having encouraged his parishioners in the 1840s to decorate their new church, the first St. Francis de Sales parish, with evergreen boughs and candles, and the Protestants would crowd around the windows outside to see this strange sight.


In majority Catholic countries, there were religious observances around Christmas, and especially northern Europe and Scandinavia had cultural customs involving Sinter Klass and magic reindeer and the like. Cities on the east coast, like New York, had immigrant populations through whom some of these traditions began to infiltrate the population, including the strange and marvelous idea of cutting down a tree outdoors and dragging it into your house.


So when Washington Irving began to write about the ancient rural Christmas customs of Great Britain in 1819, and Charles Dickens catches that spark to blow into the warm hearth of his "Carol" in 1843, they are bringing back a set of practices over 200 years set aside. The urban flicker of interest in all this, shown in pieces like Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas" of 1823, becomes a bonfire across the country following the Civil War, when soldiers in camp from Ohio and Iowa and Missouri meet troops from Boston and Philadelphia and NYC and then, in 1865, bring home the customs of gifts and trees and the full-blown commemoration of Christmas itself as a national celebration.


Just so, in Granville you see in the old records very little mention even of December 25 as a date for religious or social celebration, let alone the word Christmas. But after our Civil War veterans return home, they bring new customs like bearded men, men and women sitting together in church, and Christmas much as we know it today.


May your Christmas be a season of joy however you celebrate it!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got his stockings hung by the chimney with care. Tell him about your family traditions at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 12-30-17

Faith Works 12-30-17

Jeff Gill


The year of Our Lord, Two-thousand and seventeen



Anno Domini. A.D. "The year of Our Lord…" as you can still read in old wills and legal documents.


Today historians and scholars in general prefer the more neutral CE, for "Common Era" (and BCE, "Before Common Era," versus B.C. for "Before Christ" and no, I don't know why the jump from Latin back to English on those older labels).


Turns out it's unlikely that Jesus was born in what's now 1 A.D. (or A.D. 1, in Latin usage – there is no "Year Zero"), with some students of Scripture reading Matthew 2 & Luke 2 to point more towards 4 B.C., meaning that Jesus would then be born four years before Christ, which does seem a bit odd.


"The year of the Lord," though, does ground a year in a benchmark date or era, and gives us a healthy sense of time past, and time passing. Ancient Rome dated years "A.U.C." for "ab urbe condita" or "since the founding of the city" and you shouldn't ask an ancient Roman which city they're referring to. Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C. hold the traditional honors for establishing Rome.


The Hebrew calendar puts us in A.M. 5778, "anno Mundi" or "the year of the World," adapted from the Hebrew for "to the year of Creation," measuring from a point determined a few thousand years ago by Biblical genealogies; the Orthodox Christians of the east sometimes use a Byzantine calendar which does the same sort of math differently, and states that we are in the year 7526 "from the creation of the world."


Inclusivity and diversity aside (and trust me, there are many more systems of numbering I could tell you about) we're likely to use our current Gregorian calendar for some time to come. There are other points in the year different cultures use for the turn of the year and the change of the annual number, but even in the west, even in our own country in pre-colonial days, January has not always been the day you change the calendar or almanac. To the early 1700s, March 1 or March 25 or Easter were used as the date for a new year to begin; since the advent of the Gregorian calendar generally, after 1750 (later in Russia and elsewhere, though), January 1 has been the big day.


What I think many of us can agree on is that we're ready to give the year 2017 back to our Lord. Take it, Almighty God, and store it where you will, and bless us with a truly new year. This may be purely personal pique, but 2017 has just been ugly and unpleasant and pestiferous and impudent and . . . Hallmark Channel will stop showing Christmas movies in the next day or so.


We need a new year.


And that's the hope, the blessing, whatever your faith perspective. Can we find a fresh start, a way forward, a possibility of being born anew? Or are we condemned to a steadily declining spiral of repeated futility down into the cosmic drain?


For me as a Christian and minister of that faith, this is where my beliefs keep me right through "New Year" to celebrating Christmas, as most Christians do through Epiphany, the celebration of the Magi arriving to honor the newborn King, on January 6 or twelve days after Christmas Day itself. You know, "on the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . ."


New Year 2018 and the season of Christmastide is a time for reflection, of remembering (even if in a chastened and rueful fashion) and of anticipating the year past and the one to come. They work together very nicely, I think, to remind us that as we take down the old calendar, we can put more behind us than we think. In putting up the new calendar, in switching our references and annotations to a new year, we have a fresher start than everyday life would lead us to believe.


We can begin anew. 2018 can be different. It may not be, but that's largely our choice; we are called to commit ourselves through prayer and faith and service to give the new year a chance to be the season of renewal God desires for all of us.


May your New Year celebrations bring you to a new appreciation of what's past, and a restored hope it what can yet be, in the year of Our Lord Two-thousand and eighteen.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your year past and planned at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 12-23-17

Faith Works 12-23-17

Jeff Gill


Simon lives! (part three)



[ital.] A story of the Christmas season [end ital.]


Simon is alive.


Now I understood, or thought I did.


Ernestine had been married to Simon for over fifty years when he died last Christmastime, and as their pastor, I'd officiated at his funeral, tears amidst the tinsel. Christmas week funerals are a very particular sort of grief and celebration, and no matter how many I've done you never quite feel at ease with them.


But now Ern was smiling at me, a year later, as I sat in her kitchen at the table, coffee in front of me and cookies near at hand (ah, temptation). She had asked me to "snoop around a bit," as if she thought I might find it a natural fit with my skill set, to find the answer to a puzzle, a mystery of this Advent season.


She had been getting "thank yous" by mail and phone about good deeds done around town the last few weeks, all supposedly the work of Simon. Who was deceased, as we both knew so well. But for a number of people in our community, he had just done them a favor, given a gift, offered aid. How was this so?


Her suspicion was that it was all a well-intended gesture from their two sons, or a gentle jests in Simon's memory by "The Golden Cuppers," his weekday coffee crew, or one of the men from church he'd done home repairs with. She had hoped I could find out who, so she could offer thanks of her own for the kind intention.


"If you'd told me last year, or six months ago, that someone would be using Simon's name this way, it probably would have irritated me a bit – I'm just being honest! – but I'm actually starting to enjoy this, pastor. It's like having him around again, but knowing he's with the Lord, all at once." Ern's eyes were bright as she poured me more coffee and went on with her reflections. "This is just like him, so whoever thought of doing it, I want them to know I appreciate it." She sat down opposite me.


"Well, Ern, first I have to tell you something." She leaned in expectantly. I went on: "You have only heard of about three of Simon's little good deeds, or in some cases, not so little?" She nodded. "Actually, as I was asking around, I found two or three more, places or people where something was given or done in the last few weeks, and the note with the cash or the greeting from the man at the door was that it was a Merry Christmas gift from . . ."


"Simon," she whispered. "Yes," I replied. "Simon has been busy this Christmas."


"But who is it?" she asked.


"That's the best part, I think…" As I started to finish my answer, she closed her eyes and smiled. "It's all of them," I concluded. Her eyes opened back up, wide and startled.


"All of whom?" she responded. "Well, remember you wondered if it could be your two sons, or if it was the Golden Cuppers at work, or the men from the church he worked with on home repair?" She nodded. "It was all of them. They all have been doing things in your husband's memory this Christmas, and putting his name to the good deeds." Ern nodded again, understanding.


"The flat tire he helped with; the man who worked the jack and got the lug nuts off said he was Simon, but the guy said there was another man back in the car . . . and he somehow traced the car back to your sons, and when he found the last name he put it with the first name he'd been given, not knowing Simon was gone, and mailed his thank you here. The Golden Cuppers have been going around to Salvation Army kettles with their coins, and the carpentry crew have been telling people their lumber was paid for by Simon. Simon has paid for people behind him in the drive-thru at breakfast, and he's paid off I don't know how many layaways, plus he's adopted a few kids through the Angel Tree. Simon has been busy this Christmas, Ern! But the answer to your question: it's all of them."


We had a prayer together of thankfulness there at the dinette table, and Ern gave me a big hug and through her tears said "thank you, you don't know how happy this makes me."


On my way out to the car, the cold wind made me shove my hands in my jacket pockets. Suddenly in one, I felt a cool, round . . . and pulled it out to find a buckeye there. Had Ern put it in when she hugged me? I almost turned to go back to ask her, and then I realized there was no need.


Because Simon put it there. Simon lives!


(Part three of three, and Merry Christmas!)



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your Christmas season surprises at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.